The Arborealists: The Art of the Tree


The Arborealists: The Art of the Tree
With essays by Angela Summerfield and Peter Davies

Publication date:  April 2016 
Price:  £20  softback

Trees provide a wonderfully versatile subject for artists, not only in  terms of the incredible diversity of form, character and colour they provide, whether individually or collectively, but also in terms of the  wealth of association, myth, folklore, religious and symbolic significance which they have come to embody. In Britain they have  inspired artists from Gainsborough and Constable through to Paul Nash, the Neo-Romantics and the Ruralists.  

The Arborealists grew out of the exhibition Under the Greenwood:  Picturing British Trees – Present held in 2013 at St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery, an exploration of contemporary artists' responses to the  tree. Such was the impact of the show and the spirit of camaraderie engendered in a truly diverse group of artists that they took on a more  permanent identity. Under the Arborealists' banner a loose association of artists, including such luminaries as David Inshaw, have  come together for exhibitions in galleries across the south. The thirty-seven artists who have contributed to this book include Jemma  Appleby, Ann and Graham Arnold, Mary Anne Aytoun-Ellis,  Buckmaster and French, Tim Craven, Michelle Dovey, Ffiona Lewis, Annie Ovenden, Julian Perry, Howard Phipps, Michael Porter,  Wladyslaw Mirecki and Angela Summerfield. 

The work included in this lavishly illustrated book, at turns dramatic  and contemplative, demonstrates that trees still have a relevance in contemporary art and retain the power to move us all as a vital  element in our landscape and sense of national identity. 

  • Essay by Royal Academy Senior Curator sets out the historical and international background to artists' relationships with trees (inc. Gainsborough, Constable, Van Gogh, Munch, Klimt etc.)
  • The first study on one of the most significant British artist groups to emerge in the 21st century
  • Features previously unpublished images and personal insights into the work of these contemporary painters
  • Will appeal equally to lovers of art, nature and the British countryside
  • Lavishly illustrated throughout 

Published in conjunction with an exhibition at St Barbe Gallery, Lymington 
23 April – 4 June 2016 

To look inside the book, please click on the cover image above

Extent: 128pp
Size: 270 x 210mm
Illustrations: over 70 full colour
Binding: softback
Price: £20

ISBN: 978-1-908326-86-7

Sansom & Co
81g Pembroke Road
Bristol BS8 3EA



Next exhibition

The Arborealists will stage their third exhibition at St Barbe Museum and Art gallery, Lymington. The Arborealists , 23rd April – 4th June 2016, will feature new works by 35 artists  and each will show just one work to emphasise the diversity of art practice prevalent within the group – in terms of size, medium, style and philosophy.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a new publication on the group. This will include an introduction on art historical links, the origins and development of the group by Tim Craven, an essay entitled “Why do Artists Paint Trees” by Dr Angela Summerfield, an essay entitled “Cultivation of Trees and western Culture” by Philippa Beale and a survey on of the work by the exhibiting artists by art historian Peter Davies. The catalogue will be fully illustrated together with a statement by each artist.

St Barbe is an excellent art gallery in the heart of the New Forest and was the venue for the group’s originating exhibition, Under the Greenwood: Picturing the British Tree in 2013. It’s great to be back with more and new artists!

Ann Arnold 1936-2015

Ann Arnold exhibited with the Arborealists at The Royal West of England Academy, Bristol, in 2014 and at Mottisfont Abbey NT, Romsey, in 2015. She also showed in the seminal Under the Greenwood: Picturing the British Tree exhibition at St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, Lymington, in 2013 – the originating exhibition for the Arborealists. Ann was a brilliant artist with an strong personal, pastoral vision and she will be sorely missed.

Ann was born in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and brought up in Surrey. She was educated at Sutton High School for Girls. Despite being beset by illness, she graduated in painting at Epsom School of Art. Also in Epsom she was introduced to the Burgh Heath Centre for the care of young people with mental illness, where a range of the arts, music, drama and especially painting were employed as therapy. At the forefront of a new profession, Ann trained to become an art therapist, working in many hospitals and she also assisted with setting-up the first degree course. Ann later founded the Association of Art Therapists. In 1961 she married the painter Graham Arnold and together they, and David Inshaw founded the Broadheath Brotherhood of artists, the forerunner of the celebrated Brotherhood of Ruralists of which she was also a member. 
The Brotherhood of Ruralists staged its inaugural exhibition at The Royal Academy in 1976. The seven members who included Peter Blake of Pop Art fame, proclaimed to express through personal vision and experience of their native heritage, a celebration of the English countryside. A ruralist is defined as someone who moves to the country from the city, and this was largely true of the group. The brotherhood believed that Romanticism was a neglected strand in British art, and that if re-introduced, might solve some of the problems that they believed were rife in much of contemporary painting. They looked for inspiration to the art of William Blake, Samuel Palmer and the Brotherhood of Ancients, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and to Victorian painting, design and photography in general. They profoundly disagreed with the view espoused by modern art orthodoxy that the sensibility and practice of their favourite nineteenth century artists were merely an eccentric dead-end and marginal to the progression of mainstream western art.

The Ruralists’ unfashionable stance however struck a chord and with assistance from substantial media publicity (including a BBC film) and various sell-out touring exhibitions, enjoyed huge popular success. Espousing a Romantic approach to art and life, their vision is encapsulated by a John Piper quote as: of something significant beyond ordinary significance, something that for a moment seems to contain the whole world and when that moment is past carries over comment on life or experience besides the comment on appearances.

In 1974 Ann and Graham moved to south west Shropshire where they acquired a steep hill of 50 acres. With the help of a tree specialist friend, they planted 6,000 trees on the hill. Ann was continuously inspired to draw and paint the surrounding landscape and she exhibited widely, at prestigious galleries throughout the UK and as far afield as Berlin and Tokyo to universal acclaim. Ann was an academician of the South West Academy of Fine and Applied Arts.

Tim Craven


Under the Greenwood, Picturing the British Tree From Constable to Kurt Jackson

Under the Greenwood
Picturing the British Tree From Constable to Kurt Jackson

Anne Anderson and  others

This celebration of the British Tree features the work of approximately 80 major artists of two centuries from the early 1800s. The twentieth century is strongly represented, as are our contemporary artists.

Read more on :

Under the Greenwood, Picturing the British Tree From Constable to Kurt Jackson
Under the Greenwood, Picturing the British Tree From Constable to Kurt Jackson
Sansom & Company, 2013
ISBN  978-1-908326-30-0
270 x 210 mm
204  pages with 100 mainly colour illustrations
English, Softback


Alex Egan

Alex Egan

Alex Egan, Giant Oak
Giant Oak

I live in the Norfolk broads, a gentle terrain, flat and marshy where trees stand out. It's off the beaten track and I'm surrounded by wildlife and ancient woodlands. I also still have strong links to Shropshire where I spent many years.

Alex Egan
Our Inheritance, Ink, acrylic, graphite on paper , 2017, 41 cm x 65 cm

A thread has, for some time run through my art practice, the depiction of trees. Until fairly recently I was using them merely as objects to draw so that I could practice honing my drawing skills, or so I thought. Subconsciously though, I realise now that they have been and are much more than that. 

Through recent life events they have increasingly crept into the foreground of my art. This coincided with an unexpected house move and having no established studio to work from. 

Alex Egan
This Ancient Oak, Houghton, pencil, acrylic, ink on paper, 2017, 30 cm x 42 cm

At the time I was already committed to an existing deadline for a show. I decided to go back to the beginning with a subject that had always been a source of solace, a sense of peace.

Intimate and intricate drawings of trees, small in scale with the intention of increasing the size of the work through time. My car became my mobile studio, restricting and liberating in equal measures: restricting the size of my work and narrowing down the range of trees I could draw to those that I was able to park up in front of. Liberating in being able to keep warm during very cold winter days and thus enabling me to spend more time on the detailed drawings, while also giving me the ability to travel further in search of the right one.

Large Chestnut, Graphite and watercolour, December 2015

Many of the trees I have so far been led to on my quest are not necessarily in the upper echelons of the tree world, they are quite often the scruffy specimens, the dead trees, the Ivy clad misshapen hunchbacks.

I am gearing myself up for the supermodels but as with all things appearance is just the start; beauty is more than skin or bark deep. Last winter when I finally had somewhere to work from, I spent a few weeks drawing the most magnificent oak in the garden, it is directly outside my studio window. I had the luxury of being indoors in the dead of winter and drawing it on a relatively large scale. In the summer, when clothed in all its glory, this tree’s branches stretch out and down, creating a perfect circular canopy to lie beneath and absorb its serene energy. 

Alex Egan
Ancient Sweet Chestnut, pencil, acrylic, ink, 2017, 42 cm x 30 cm

I am without shame a tree hugger, their energy is powerful in its stillness. I am in search of discovering through my art a way of depicting this. 

I hope as a human being I am evolving and this will extend to my art practice, very much helped by the wisdom of trees.

J’habite dans les Norfolk Broads, une terre douce, plate et marécageuse, sur laquelle les arbres se détachent. C’est hors des sentiers battus et je suis entourée par la faune sauvage, par des forêts anciennes et de très vieux arbres.

Depuis quelques temps, un fil conducteur parcourt mon travail : le besoin subconscient d’être parmi les arbres et de les représenter dans mon art. Je me sens maintenant tellement reliée à eux, comme si j’avais mon propre système racinaire, qui communique avec les arbres que j’observe et que j’aime.
Visuellement, bien sûr, ils sont magnifiques, et nous avons tous le souffle coupé devant un bel arbre. Nous sommes d’abord frappés par sa taille, puis par ses plus infimes détails : les bourgeons qui se forment, les feuilles qui se déploient, étapes annuelles de sa vie, vie incroyablement lente, longue et fière.

S’arrêter et méditer ; quand nous contemplons un arbre ancien, nous nous demandons de combien d’évènements il a été le témoin. Dépeindre visuellement tout cela et bien plus encore, c’est pour moi le travail en cours de toute une vie.

Ma vision est maintenant tellement sensibilisée à rechercher et à observer les arbres, que c’est la première chose sur laquelle je me concentre devant un nouveau paysage. C’est bien évidemment ce qui s’est passé quand nous avons visité Vaux au début de l’automne 2016. C’était une belle journée, parfaite pour observer et pour respirer l’air chargé d’oxygène exhalé par ces arbres français.

Lesley Slight

Lesley Slight

The landscape of West Dorset is the visual foundation of Lesley Slight’s painting. Her work grows from meticulous observations, her complete immersion in the place she paints. But these are invented landscapes, incorporating real and imagined elements; visions from knowledge, experience, memory.

Lesley Slight
Hidden Path III, oil on linen, 30 x 40 cm

Distinct areas of colour or shadow belie the complex compositions; rhythm and pattern guide the eye, and the result is always monumental. In general she uses a low colour key, holding something back for the shift or burst of light which orchestrates the narrative. Light touches a hillside, a furrow, the crest of a wave, a bush, a leaf – a fleeting moment, but here minutes and seconds explode, this is a moment you will not forget. But a beautiful moment often holds its nemesis.

Lesley Slight
Two TreesI, oil on linen, 30 x 40 cm
Slight paints intuitively and so suggests that mastery of anything does not lie in control. She describes the calm but also the brewing storm. The shadows in these paintings can be ominous, like a warning that our past endeavours to control, dictate an uncertain future. These paintings are thoughtful, subtle, powerful and achingly poignant.

Gigi Sudbury

Lesley Slight
Bright Tree II, oil on linen, 18 x 24 cm

Lesley Slight
Red Sky, oil on linen, 24 x 30 cm

La peinture de Lesley Slight trouve son fondement visuel dans les paysages de l’ouest du Dorset. Son travail se développe à partir d’observations minutieuses et de son immersion complète dans le lieu qu’elle peint. Mais se sont des paysages inventés, qui intègrent des éléments réels et imaginaires : visions de connaissance, d’expérience, de mémoire.

Des zones distinctes de couleur ou d’ombre contredisent les compositions complexes ; le rythme et le motif guident l’œil, et le résultat est toujours monumental. En général elle utilise une gamme de couleurs sombre,  gardant une réserve pour le passage ou l’éclat de lumière qui orchestre la narration. La lumière touche le flanc d’une colline, un sillon, la crête d’une vague, un buisson, une feuille : instant fugace, mais ici minutes et secondes explosent, c’est un moment que vous n’oublierez pas. Mais un beau moment inclut souvent sa némesis.

Slight peint intuitivement et suggère ainsi que la maîtrise de toute chose ne réside pas dans le contrôle. Elle décrit le calme mais aussi l’agitation de la tempête. Dans ces tableaux les ombres peuvent être menaçantes, comme un avertissement que notre passé s’efforce de contrôler ; elles dictent un futur incertain. Ces peintures sont réfléchies, subtiles, puissantes et douloureusement poignantes.

Gigi Sudbury

Abi Kremer

Abi Kremer

Abi Kremer
Highcliffe 2, watercolour, 90 cm x 125 cm

On a walk through woodlands I am struck by the variation of light and shadow, and the moods it creates. Artists and poets have been inspired throughout history by this enclosed space - which can lead you on an enchanted journey through an imaginative otherworld, where trees become creatures with definite personalities. 

I have worked with a range of dance companies and developed drawings from live performance, with music. My focus on the energy of movement has prepared me for this engrossing project, beginning in 2005 with an Arts Council supported residency at Holton Lee, a site of special scientific interest in Wareham forest, Dorset. A serendipitous journey led me there, a mixture of chance and accident which mirrors my practice.

Broomhill Coppice was the starting point for 'Kami 6' (the title meaning Japanese 'spirit of the tree'). My passion for the Ukiyo-e floating world art of Japan, especially Hiroshige, began when I was an art student, studying the prints at the V&A Museum. I have always admired Bridget Riley for her sinuous and electric colour compositions, sometimes stimulated by nature (ref her 'Pleasures of Sight' essay). Working in my studio at Holton Lee enabled me to experiment with washes, masking, layering and transparent colour, resulting in this series. There is a meditative feel to this colour that mirrors the peaceful quality of woodland light.  

Abi Kremer
Kami 6, oil on canvas, 75 cm x 50 cm

A similar process of experiment and careful design is the basis of Highcliffe 1, where watercolour washes are allowed to tap into unconscious thoughts and feelings. The surrealist work of Eileen Agar, with a playful use of pattern, is an important stimulus, with her fellow artist Paul Nash and his 'objects personages'. Their meetings took place in Swanage, not far from Holton Lee overlooking Lytchett Bay. This large watercolour piece is one of the first of a fascinating exploration into the character of trees, a mixture of surrealist and abstract ideas. Salisbury Trees 1 is a more recent piece. For me trees become animate like dancers on a stage.

I look forward to taking these experiments, which are based on the woodlands of southern England, to France and beyond.  

Abi Kremer
Salisbury Trees 1, watercolour 36 x 26 cm

Comme artiste, j’ai été principalement inspirée par le paysage et la nature, mais j’ai travaillé avec des compagnies de danse, et la tension qui existe dans l’interaction humaine d’une performance existe pour moi dans l’environnement d’un bois. Chaque espace différent crée aussi une ambiance, et j'ai apprécié la recherche artistique à Poitiers et le processus pour trouver un langage visuel afin de communiquer ma réponse. Les émotions sont tout à fait différentes de celles des forêts du Dorset où j'ai passé cinq ans à créer un projet spécifique au site.

Je travaille par des lavis de couleur transparente, organisés en masques et en couches qui créent une discipline. Le travail est très expérimental. En effet, peindre humide dans l’humide développe mon imagination et crée des images irréelles, parfois tout à fait ludiques. Faire des signes devient un rythme, souvent inspiré par la musique. La couleur est la clé de mon travail et je m'inspire du vocabulaire visuel de Bridget Riley et de l’imaginaire d'Eileen Agar. L'exposition expressionniste abstraite où j'ai vu le travail complexe et sensible de Lee Krasner m’a récemment influencée. Pour moi les formes en arabesques des arbres s'animent, comme des danseurs sur une scène.

Blaze Cyan

Blaze Cyan
Facebook: Blaze Cyan - Artist
Twitter: @BlazeCyan

My work begins as an exploration and love of being present in the landscape. While walking and gathering sensory information, I also collect intuitively interesting pieces of wood and stone. Twisted knots in dead branches and tactile stones embedded with crystal or meandering veins. The nature of their textures and surfaces helps me to create the connection between visceral memory and my experience of the terrain. 

Blaze Cyan
Wellington Woods II, etching, 40 x 60 cm, 2017

My primary inspiration comes from ancient and veteran trees. Their individual anthropomorphic qualities evoke feelings of empathy and the uncanny. They inspire my re-enchantment with, and a re-imagining of the landscape. I have a fascination for that which must always remain a mystery, the things that can only be imagined but can never be seen or proven. We can never know what has been witnessed in the lifespan of an ancient tree, they are the silent observers of humanity.

Aged and decaying trees frequently appear almost dead, and it's this ambiguity between life and death that intrigues me and appears to transcend mortality. They seem to exist outside normal constraints or human timescales and are steeped in mystery... with implications of something hidden? They are the symbolic and romantic personalities of the forests and woodland.

Blaze Cyan
Greenwich II, woodcut on silk paper, 45 cm x 30 cm

Being grounded in the discipline of drawing I identify with natural materials like charcoal that have a direct representative relationship with the subject through the process of physical transformation. The mulling of organic pigments from vines into inks seems a fitting and reverential way to re-describe these majestic forms. The overwhelming detail serves to mesmerise both myself whilst making the work and the viewer after completion.

I am naturally drawn to black and white for its dramatic polarizing and defining effects. By taking a step away from realism, the visual incompleteness makes room for imagination. Monochrome creates an unnatural perfection, transforming that which could be grotesque to appear beautiful and fascinating.

Blaze Cyan
Wimbledon Common, charcoal and conte on paper and wood panel, 150 cm x 100 cm

'the artist, with each revelation of the truth, always keeps his enchanted gaze hanging on what still remains hidden...' Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, 1872. 

Mon travail commence comme une exploration : j’aime être présente au sein du paysage. En marchant, je recueille des informations sensitives, en collectant des morceaux de bois tordus qui intuitivement m’intéressent et des pierres aux veines sinueuses, mais le plus important... des souvenirs. La nature de leurs textures et du toucher de leurs surfaces m’aide à relier ma mémoire intime profonde à mon expérience du terrain.

Blaze Cyan
Cranbourne, graphite on paper, 45 cm x 35 cm

L'inspiration vient de la forêt et d’arbres anciens singuliers, dont les qualités anthropomorphiques créent un lien personnel, des sentiments d'empathie et réenchantent le paysage. Ils dépassent l’échelle des temps humains et l’idée de la mort. Ils sont soustraits à toutes les préoccupations humaines. Le mystère des forêts sombres nourrit la mémoire, mais garde la conscience enracinée dans le moment présent par la possibilité du danger. Une transposition de la nature au travers du filtre teint de noir de mon imagination.

Etant ancrée dans la discipline du dessin, je m'identifie à des matériaux naturels comme le fusain, qui par le processus de la transformation physique établissent une relation représentative directe avec le sujet. Le monochrome crée une perfection artificielle, une incomplétude visuelle, qui transforme ce qui pourrait être grotesque pour le faire paraître beau et fascinant.

« Ne choisissez qu’un seul maître : nature », Rembrandt Van Rjin

Blaze Cyan
Croft castle III, etching, 25 x 20 cm, 2017